High School Project Costs Surprise Commissioners

SNOW HILL – Despite what one Worcester County Commissioner called “shocking numbers,” the commissioners voted Tuesday to send the Pocomoke High School (PHS) renovation and addition out to bid.

The $45 million current cost estimate is $13 million more than the original estimate of $32 million.

“These numbers are shocking,” Commissioner Virgil Shockley said.

Shockley said he doubts the county will be able to afford the Snow Hill High School renovation and the Showell Elementary School project planned in the next decade because the bond service payments will be so high the county will not be able to afford further debt.

The new Worcester County Career and Technology Center building, currently under construction, and the PHS project bond payments will double the existing annual bond debt service, from $6 million to $12 million, Shockley said.

Shockley said he wanted a second opinion on the costs.

The 125,000-square-foot PHS project, under this estimate, will cost $232 per square foot.

“We basically took a look at the 10-year capital plan. All of us agreed we’d do schools. That’s not the argument,” said Shockley.

Nelson Young of SPN, construction manager for the work, said that the company and county would have another opportunity for value engineering at the end of the bid process.

“If you draw it a certain way, it has to be built a certain way,” Shockley said. “I’m always amazed at the backwardness of this process.”

Shockley said he would not do the value engineering himself this time, as he did with Stephen Decatur High School renovation 10 years ago, finding, he said, $1.7 million in savings.

The costs need to be looked at by someone not already involved, Shockley said, to determine if any savings can be found in materials. He was not asking for any changes in the project plans.

If that second opinion determined that the $45 million price tag for the PHS renovation was the best that could be done, Shockley said, “I will shut up and I will sign my name.”

None of the other commissioners took up Shockley’s push for a second opinion, however.

Young said that a consultant would cost in the $15,000 to $25,000 range.

Commissioner Bud Church said he did not have a problem with SPN going over the estimates again.

County Commissioner Judy Boggs is worried about the future project.

“My concern is, are we going to have the money to do other schools,” said Boggs. “We don’t know what the state is going to do to us.”

The state’s financial trouble will almost certainly be passed on to the counties, but no one knows just how large those cuts will be.

“Does that mean we don’t build Pocomoke because we might not be able to build Showell?” Church asked.

Boggs said, “We know we’re going to have a lot less than we do now.”

While the residential building market has slowed down, the commercial market has not been affected as much.

Commissioner Bobby Cowger, himself in the construction industry, said many local construction businesses are looking for work, which would tend to bring the prices down, but the state’s bond requirements make some jobs too expensive.

Cowger said, “They can’t even bid these jobs,” because they cannot afford to put up the bond money.

SPN is slated to receive $3 million for construction management services, but, according to staff, that number is still being negotiated.

The commissioners voted unanimously to send the project out to bid.

“If we don’t start now, we’ll never get Pocomoke finished,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.